Oh, you can complain about the weather, the food, the accommodation and the service. Fair enough. Our country has exported everything from stiff upper lips to football hooliganism. But what you can’t complain about in the UK is the sheer variety in its regions and customs. Both geography and culture conspire to give this country a rich social fabric that’s been very well woven into some of its finest crime novels. This gazetteer seeks to explore the UK’s regions and introduce you to some of their finest writers. In part one we brought you Scotland, and now we take a swerve down to East Anglia…
Part 2 : East Anglia
In times past, East Anglia was a mysterious and forbidding place, seemingly apart and distant from the rest of the country. Indeed, the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire showed that this feeling was not just a perception, as its watery wastes concealed many a sinister legend and hidden community.
Our first author is Jim Kelly. He lives in the cathedral city of Ely, and has two series to his name. The first is set in Ely itself, and features a journalist cum amateur detective – Philip Dryden. We are going to concentrate on his other creation, King’s Lynn copper Peter Shaw. In At Death’s Window (2014) Shaw tackles a peculiar local problem. The edible sea grass called samphire used to be eaten only by locals, but now that smart gastro pubs in London are featuring it as an expensive delicacy, the crop is at a premium. Organised gangs of pickers are fighting each other for the most productive ‘turf’, and the killing starts. Shaw must find the murderers among the expensive weekend cottages which have given the Norfolk coast the soubriquet ‘Chelsea on Sea’. You can also read our feature about Jim Kelly and his writing.
Just on the edge of The Fens is the city of Peterborough. In the 20th century it was known mostly for its brickmaking, busy railway yards, and a medieval cathedral. Post-WWII, the city was declared a New Town and it expanded massively. In recent years it has become home to thousands of migrants seeking work in local agriculture and food processing. Against this background, Eva Dolan’s stunning debut novel, Long Way Home, tells a grim tale of exploitation and criminal gangs. We meet DI Zigic and DS Ferreira – both migrants themselves – who work with the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. They become immersed in a mysterious case of a man burned to death, and have to penetrate a shadowy network of abusive gang masters and landowners. She followed that up with Tell No Tales, where once again immigration becomes a main theme.
Inspector Morse pretty much cornered the market in crime detection in Oxford, but the lighter blue of Cambridge has been proudly done by in recent years by Alison Bruce’s DC Goodhew. The author has turned away from the road-most-travelled, and instead of making her central character yet another Detective Inspector, has opted for the much more lowly rank of Detective Constable. Gary Goodhew is far from your average plod, and is a very thoughtful and complex character with an interesting personal history. In The Silence, Bruce also avoids the obvious, and instead of setting her murder mystery within the ancient walls of Trinity or Kings, she focuses on a group of students who attend one of the less prestigious establishments in the town. Alison Bruce spoke to us about her work in this interview.
Crime among the ruins has been a crime fiction standby for almost as long as there has been crime fiction, but archaeologist Ruth Galloway is anything but stereotypical. Author Elly Griffiths has created a character who firmly stands outside the circle of genre stereotypes. She is no dusty academic, neither is she particularly glamorous – indeed, she is reassuringly ordinary, and even matronly at times. She works principally in Norfolk – our easternmost county – and when she is not struggling with a decidedly difficult relationship with a local copper she has a habit of discovering dark deeds, as well as Saxon and medieval artifacts. In The Ghost Fields, Ruth Galloway becomes entangled in a mystery involving one of the many old airfields spread across Norfolk. Excavations uncover the shell of a WWII aircraft, complete with pilot… but the corpse is nowhere near as old as the plane. We also reviewed another Ruth Galloway novel, Dying Fall.
Next time, we’ll take you to the South West, with its sandy beaches, imposing cliffs, wild moorland and naval heritage.
Have you got your own favourite East Anglian author? Let us know about the writer and their books in the comments below.